A Coaching Power Tool created by Aurora Aritao
(Executive Leadership Coach, HONG KONG)
Over the last decade, there is a genre of books, blogs, TED talks and articles that has become more and more popular because they fundamentally help us understand facts about ourselves -‐ our thoughts, emotions, tendencies and behaviors. They tell stories about us, backed by empirical studies -‐ stories that have not been told in such engaging ways before. One such book is Blink written by English-‐Canadian journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell who showed us that there can be as much value in the blink of an eye, as in months of rational analysis.
Gladwell shares various illustrations of our ability to gauge what is really important to us from a very short period of experience. This is also called “thin-‐ slicing” or “snap judgments.” According to Gladwell, these judgments can be much more effective than ‘analysis paralysis’ but can also be a disaster when based on stereotypes or prejudice.
Meanwhile, there is a behavioral model popularized by psychologist Amy Cuddy (Harvard) in collaboration with Susan Fiske (Princeton) & Peter Glick (Lawrence). The topic of many accessible online articles, the model takes the ‘thin slicing’ phenomena to the next level.
Two Dimension of Social Judgment
According to their research, when we encounter someone new, we quickly seek answers to two questions rooted in the evolutionary need to make correct survival decisions: What are this person’s intentions toward me (warmth)? And, is this person capable of acting on those intentions (strength)?
These two dimensions of social judgment account for more than 90% of the variance in the positive or negative impressions we form of people around us.2
Because we lack the brainpower to weigh someone’s true merits quickly, we seize on our sometimes mistaken answers to these questions and rate the person high or low on imaginary scales of intention and capability – or, to use simpler terminology, warmth and (strength). Recent psychological research involving thousands of people from two dozen nations shows that this way of thinking is remarkably widespread. Moreover, a number of studies show that warmth and competence (strength) assessments determine whether and how we intend to interact with others: We like to assist people we view as warm and block those we see as cold; we desire to associate with people we consider competent and ignore those we consider incompetent. 3
Much like the findings from Gladwell’s investigation, Cuddy adds that we unfortunately find clues to warmth vs strength in stereotypes based on people’s race, gender, or nationality, therefore many of our decisions about whom to believe, doubt, defend, attack, hire, or fire, or even which products to buy and which brands to trust -‐ are not without bias.
The Duality and Inverse Relationship
There is of course a ton of research from the vaults of social psychology that educate us on biases and prejudice, i.e. how it is that we favor one person and dislike another. The warmth vs strength model, it turns out, offers more depth than this. The study unearthed two more findings:
1) People can find both qualities in one person, and react/ behave differently towards him depending on the context. Cuddy gives some examples:
Workplace Whilst it may be smart to trust our instincts or ‘thin slice’ in situations to get to an outcome quicker (e.g. promptly get something out there for feedback), it requires greater self-‐awareness and self-‐management on our part to acknowledge and challenge our snap judgments of people we meet and those around us.
In the workplace, when these judgments are inaccurate, decision-‐makers may be putting their trust in the wrong hands or mistakenly undervaluing talented employees. These misplaced judgments can undermine the companies’ efforts to retain the right employees and discover new business opportunities.
It pays therefore to be mindful and to avoid ‘sizing people up’ on the basis of stereotypical perceptions of intention and competence. Remembering that these qualities are not mutually exclusive, it is possible that a veteran senior leader in the technology department could be a good committee leader for a company sponsored Charity event.
Leadership In the realm of leadership development, a question to ask may be: which one is better: to be warm or to be strong, to be trusted or to be admired, to be loved or to be feared?
The best answer, the research tells us, is to be both, and in this particular order: connect first then lead.
Most leaders usually strive to prove their competence, to demonstrate their excellence, and impress with their credentials. However when fear of the leader develops, chances are the leader (whether on purpose or not) has imposed her strength, competence and superiority before establishing trust. And yet we know that fear can stunt creativity, openness and risk-‐taking.
On the other hand we know that warmth, connectedness, empathy – these enable trust to develop, open up communication and make way for sharing of ideas. When warmth is established first, you are paving the way for a deeper trusting relationship by demonstrating that you are listening, that you care.
A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence—and to lead—is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence. 4
- How can we see past social categories and recognize individuals’ true talents?
- How do we know that we are stereotyping? What are the signs.
- What are some of the cost of mistaken judgments?
- As a leader, in what way can one develop ‘warmth then strength’ to have sustainable influence and impact?
- Think about a person who is demonstrably high on one trait but assumed to be low in the other, how might you test that these traits are not mutually exclusive?